OH HAY GUYZ. Happy Tuesday! I apologize – well, mostly to myself – for my lack of posts last week. Or maybe you’re all glad because you’re busy and that’s one less blog I made you read, in which case, you’re welcome! It was a crazy busy week, the kind where I actually don’t have any time to write. Not if I also want to sleep, anyway.
We’re almost a quarter of the way through this year (gawd!), so it’s time for a long-overdue check-in on my 2015 Habits Project. I haven’t written much about it because really, how many times can you say “don’t worry everyone, I’m still flossing every day!” (update – I am!).
But I’m 3 habits in now so I think it’s high time for an update. I should be writing an update anyway, but I’m really checking in today because there have been some hiccups that have forced me to stop and say “okay, we need to sort this out real quick.” It’s time to regroup.
I kicked off the project in January with my first habit, daily flossing. Again, there’s not much to say about flossing. This was a good choice for the 1st habit because it’s super simple to start and maintain – if you brush your teeth every day, it’s easy enough to add flossing. This habit has been a success.
Then February rolled around, and things got thorny. Not only because, well, it’s February and February tends to be
a 28-day mind-numbing crap-a-thon difficult. But I threw a new and more demanding habit into the mix: the daily tidy-up.
This one involves a quick tidy-up of the home every day – originally for at least 10 minutes, then 5, then okay just do 3 quick things to make this place tidier so you can go to bed. The problem is that it’s hard to make that into a habit because there’s no trigger, nothing to consistently make me think “time to clean something!”
Originally, the trigger was my bedtime routine, because that’s when I figured would be the best time to do my tidying up. But I quickly learned that this method wasn’t sustainable, because I couldn’t always do that every night before bed. What if I come home really late? Isn’t it overkill to start a cleaning spree in the midnight hour when you can barely keep your eyes open? Or what about when I’m home during the day so I just do it then – I got my requirement for the day but broke the bedtime pattern so how am I helping create a habit?
I have also noticed that this habit isn’t fixing any real cleaning problems. It might actually be exacerbating them. For example, I might not do any dishes during my 10 minutes because I think “there are a lot of little things I can do, and doing more things feels better than just doing one thing,” or “I’ll save them for this weekend when I can do them all at once and get it DONE.”
Does anyone else do this? You put off little things because you just sort of assume that they will get done later? But because you keep doing this, later never actually comes until all of a sudden you have a big ol’ stinky pile of dishes on your counter? I often fall into the trap of prioritizing quick little cosmetic things because the results are more immediately apparent (instant gratification for the win!) and it’s somehow “better” if I can do more things in my 10 minutes.
I’m not even one month in to my March habit, daily reading, so it seems a little premature to start picking it apart already. But I am already noticing similar problems to my tidying up habit: the lack of a trigger is making it difficult to make this habitual, and I don’t feel like I’m reading books any faster than I did before.
The guideline for March is to read at least 5 pages a day. I can certainly read more than that if I want, and I often do, because as everyone knows it’s hard to just stop reading in the middle of a good book. Like how you can’t just eat one potato chip. I thought this was how it would be every day but many times I did only read the 5 pages required.
And, to my dismay, I’m not really progressing through books any faster. I had to have my latest book read by Tuesday, March 17, when my book club was meeting. I thought since I started this book at the end of February and would be reading every day in March, I would have it done in record time. And yet, Sunday March 15 rolls around and like always, I have to do the bulk of the reading at the last minute, despite coming off a 4 day weekend with loads of free time. What gives? (PS my book club is full of overachievers who always have the book done like 2 weeks in advance. Who are these people, and why are they so much better at time management than me?!? I demand answers!)
So, just like with my tidying up habit, I’m running into this conundrum where I’m doing more of these things and yet, not much more is actually getting done.
Regrouping, With Love
I started wondering why I even bothered with this project and if I could just quietly quit without anyone noticing; after all, I haven’t talked about this in months anyway. But it was in these dark hours on the brink of giving up that a nugget of wisdom was born (isn’t this where they’re always born?).
Making and keeping habits is about more than just picking a behavior and making sure to repeat it every day. Some habits are simpler than others, but with all habits that you are consciously choosing to create, there needs to be something more.
If I want to make something part of my normal, I need to change not just my behavior, but my heart. In other words – I can’t become a tidier person simply by doing more cleaning. I have to value a tidy home. I can’t rely on just the act of reading; reading must be important to me, I must foster a love and admiration of reading.
And I have to ask myself what the ultimate goal is beyond just getting through more pages. Why did I choose this habit? Because I want to make reading a way of life again. I love reading. I love the escape, I love new horizons and being in someone else’s life for a while. And I miss it. When I’m bored or need to kill time, I want my natural instinct to be picking up a book instead of turning on the TV, or instead of zoning out on the bus.
Why did I choose my tidying up habit? Because I’m a homebody who knows that a good outer space makes you feel good inside, who loves and values a clean home. I wanted to make it easier to maintain a peaceful space at home even when life gets busy. And because having to spend an entire Sunday doing the all the cleaning you keep putting off sucks.
And I think all of this gives me a good clue for where to start. Hell, it doesn’t even give me a clue it pretty much just spells it out for me.
READING: I will try to narrow my focus to three “trigger” areas: bedtime, bus time, and evenings/weekends when I feel the urge to turn on the TV. I will aim to do my reading during these times so I can work on turning each of them into triggers. I may read at other times too – in addition to these times, not in place of them.
CLEANING: I’ll focus on bad things – the areas of my home that need work – and use their messiness as my trigger. This includes: piles of junk mail, DISHES, our overflowing trash/recycle bins, and clothing on the bedroom and bathroom floor (oh don’t judge me. Like you’ve never gotten a little too lax in any of these areas). I will make sure that my daily cleaning includes one of these tasks. I can still do other tidying in addition to these things, or on days when none of these things need attention (ha!), but since those additional tasks already come easily to me they will be 2nd on the priority list.
I will make charts for each month and check things off as I do them each day. I’ve found that the act of checking things off a list serves as a trigger/motivation in itself. During times when my schedule is erratic and I’m not feeling as structured, a visual reminder that I can check this off a list will be a good trigger. It also helps remind me of all the things I need to do each day.
I will remember that I can use the project itself and the other habits as triggers for a problem habit. For example, when I floss my teeth or clean up every night, it will remind me of the habits project and the fact that I have other habits to be mindful of.
I will remember love. Successful habits start with heart: I have to love, respect, and value a clean house, healthy gums, and being a voracious reader, writer, and meditate-r (Spell Check is telling me “meditate-r” isn’t a word, but it totally should be). Just as I have to make sure I’m doing the work every day, I have to cultivate my love of the values I’m basing my habits on.
And now that I think about it, I am seeing some progress. Like the signs of Spring that are shyly popping up around us, my living room is, on average, tidier now than it was before February. And the dish piles, while still sometimes unruly, have been getting a little bit smaller. Change is happening, I just have to accept that it’s happening very slowly. Perhaps being patient about results is my invisible, year-long “13th habit.” 🙂
Well guys, it’s getting late, so instead of looking ahead to the next few months I’ll let you see for yourself what I have coming up and promise to check in more frequently than once every 90 days. 🙂
Which daily habits do you struggle with?
What is one “little” thing you’d like to get better at?